Single-payer healthcare in California: Not Dead Yet

“Is there any hope for health care on the national level,” he was asked? “No.”

But Don Bechler, Chair of the California activist group Single Payer Now, was on northern California’s KZYX yesterday affirming that there is still hope for health care “if we get the insurance companies out.” California voters have twice passed single-payer health plans, both times seeing them vetoed by Governor Scwarzenegger. State Senator Mark Leno has a universal-coverage bill in the current legislature to try once more. It’s a bill anybody would love — unless you’re a body working in the insurance business.

As to the national battle, Bechler says HR 676 (sometimes known as the John Conyers bill) is the best current hope. “We haven’t really given up.” Strategies? “Talk to your congressmen, ask them to co-author HR 676. There are 87 co-sponsors so far. It’s health care for everyone, dental coverage, long-term care.” What’s not to love?

Bechler contends that Massachusetts voters who put Scott Brown did not do so out of anti-health care sentiments as has been speculated in media reports. “That’s the corporate media doing their corporate spin for their corporate buddies in the insurance industry.” Lest there be any doubt, Bechler is not much more enthusiastic about the media than about the insurance business.

As to the threat of filibuster of the current bill, which is at least more likely to pass than HR 676, Bechler suggests the Republican bluff be called. “Put it on the floor. Let the Republicans get up and talk for two months.”

Such a prospect is mind-numbing all by itself. But the national outrage might keep everyone awake.

Public Option: the Single Payer Salve

Single payer proponents are still stung by the loss of their big issue to other big issues — or big players, if you will — but the prospect of a strong public option is the balm that may still salve that wound. This was one of the messages delivered by Giorgio Piccagli, President of the California Public Health Association, North and member of the Executive Board of the American Public Health Association at a panel discussion tonight sponsored jointly by OWL of San Francisco (The Voice of Midlife and Older Women) and the League of Women Voters of San Francisco. Audience members were urged to fight, among other things, for retention of the provision which would allow states to have single payer. (A California single payer bill passed the Senate Health Committee this spring and will be heard by the full Senate in 2010.)

Fellow panelist Debbie LeVeen echoed the call, saying a “robust public plan” must be national, to insure it’s large enough, must have authority to set prices and to bargain on drugs, and use the Medicare provider network.

Backing his call for reform with increasingly heard data such as sobering figures about uninsured Americans (45 million uninsured and another 50 million under-insured, for a total of about 1 in 3 of us) Piccagli said the lessons of the past 40 years include the fact that classical economics of supply and demand do not apply to health care: increasing the number of doctors, or competition among hospitals, only results in rising costs.

If the energies formerly tied to single payer can be channeled into a push for a public option some feel a viable reform bill will emerge. The San Francisco audience, many of whom were fervent proponents of single payer (which was endorsed by both OWL and the League of Women Voters) and most of whom are seasoned activists, left the room armed with cards to send appropriate legislators and plenty of ammunition to support their call now for a public option.

Said the third panelist, Co-Director of the Center for Policy Analysis Ellen Shaffer, about prospects for a robust public plan, “I think it’s up to us.”